Paris-Roubaix is the race that got me interested in cycling. Ever since I first saw it on television back in 1987 with commentary by John Tesh. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Giro and the Tour, but Paris-Roubaix is my favorite hands down. Fast forward 24 years and a bunch of miles later, I finally got my wish. My good friend Dan Farrand got the idea planted in my head and I couldn’t say no.
For those who don’t know, northern France is SUPER flat, fast and smooth roads as far as the eye can see. That is of course until you hit the cobbles. The first section I rode was Wallers/Arenberg. When I finally stopped and took a look around, I couldn’t believe that I’d made it here. All the memories of races I’ve watched over the years comes right back. After taking a bunch of pictures, I was ready to ride. The road leading up to the forest is flat, straight and fast. But once you hit the cobbles everything goes downhill fast.
The only way I could describe it would be to imagine yourself riding over land mines and your handlebar is red hot and hard to hold. After about 300 yards I stopped with fear that I was going to crash. My hands already had blisters the size of silver dollars. After about 5 minutes I made it to the end with my teeth intact.
The day of the race is like no other. Locals are already dressed up with flags flying by 8 am. You pretty much have only one section to watch the race and since Arenberg is our favorite, that’s where we went. As we were waiting, a reporter and camera man interviewed me for Belgian TV (which we saw later that night).
My friends and I could maintain about 15-20 mph through the cobbles. The pros on the other hand were going at least 25-30. You could tell when they were approaching by the roar of the helicopters, motorcycles, support cars and of course the fans.
On Monday we decided to head up to the Roubaix velodrome and check it out. One word, impressive. The track is so smooth and the banks are STEEP. This is the last year that the race will end on the original track. Next year, it will finish in the new one which is being built just a stones throw from the old one.
About 50 paces from the track is the office/museum for the track/race. Since this is northern France and Belgium is not too far away, it only makes sense to have a bar inside. Above it are listed all of the riders who won over the years.
No matter what you see on tv, real pave is 1000X harder than it looks. I guess that’s why I have more respect for the riders who focus on the classics instead of one race. They turn themselves inside out on the worst roads and weather. The one with the best handling skills wins, it’s that simple.
Ps. go see this race in person.